Microsoft's New Office for iPad Brings Apps Together 2021


Key Takeaways

Office for iPad combines Word, Excel, PowerPoint into a single app.Collaborate and connect to your work accounts.The iPad still lags when it comes to using multiple apps at once. Microsoft

Microsoft's new Office app for iOS combines Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF management into a single suite, instead of the standalone apps that we're used to on the iPad and iPhone.

This all-in-one suite has been on the iPhone and on Android since 2019, but is finally available where you actually want it—on the iPad. The combined suite makes it easier for you to stay inside Microsoft Office's various apps, but does it really offer an advantage over standalone apps?

"Having an integrated suite reduces inefficiencies for accessing data and for collaborating," Jacob Dayan, CEO and co-founder of Community Tax, told Ach5—somewhat cryptically—via email. "If you use Microsoft Teams, you can easily share Word and Excel documents with real-time collaboration."


I asked around for opinions on why a suite might be better for users than the already-available Microsoft mobile apps, but the answers weren't convincing.

"The biggest advantage to having standalone Microsoft apps on your iPad or tablet would be the mobility," says Dayan. "If you have a presentation across town, you can easily carry your iPad and adapter, connect it to the project, and then present directly from it."

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That's a good point, but it's no better than just using the PowerPoint app on your iPad.

iPad Mitigation

The real advantage, then, might be that the all-in-one suite mitigates the iPad's terrible multi-app support. You can use more than one app at a time on the iPad, but it's not pretty. I used the iPad for work, almost exclusively, for years.

At first, it was almost impossible, but now the iPad really is a very capable computer. The trouble is, multi-app support feels tacked on. You can put two apps side-by-side, and in theory you can drag and drop between those two apps, but maybe you can't.

Perhaps one of the apps doesn't support drag-and-drop. Or perhaps it does, but only inside the app itself. Or maybe it's supposed to work, and the iPad just isn't feeling it today.

Whereas Windows and the Mac were designed from the start to support mice, and drag-and-drop interactions, the iPad added them late. It's up to developers to implement it, and if they don't want to, it won't work. 

Now, the Office app does support drag and drop from other apps. You can still drop images into your documents from the Photos app, for example. But by putting it all together in one place, Microsoft ensures that its apps can work seamlessly together, without the oddities of the iPad's multi-window support.

"Having an integrated suite reduces inefficiencies for accessing data and for collaborating."

Whether you prefer it comes down to preference, but as a developer, it's possible that Microsoft prefers this level of control. 

There are some other advantages to a suite. For instance, you can easily create and sign PDFs from your documents. And the list of built-in quick actions available will probably grow over time, as the suite is improved and updated. 

In one way, the iPad is now a more viable laptop replacement than ever. Hardware-wise, it's already more powerful than many laptop computers. And software-wise, it has a huge ecosystem of apps, from professional video editing applications, to Apple's own iWork suite (the Pages, Number, and Keynote apps), and Microsoft's Office.

It even lets you hook up a keyboard and a trackpad. But in other ways, the iPad still feels half-finished, most obviously in the interaction between apps. But if all you want is Office, then now you're golden.